WASHINGTON – During the first intermission Friday, while the Sabres and Capitals rested, a group of little kids took the ice in Verizon Center. They didn’t worry about defense. They didn’t worry about the neutral zone.
The only thing they wanted to do was score.
That’s basically where the Sabres may have to devolve to.
“In situations like this, it’s about having a beginners’ mind, learning how to play the game again and going from there,” center Ryan O’Reilly said after a 3-1 loss to Washington. “It’s frustrating because I think a lot of the guys on the team are playing so well. We’re just not putting it in.”
By now it’s no secret Buffalo’s offense is terrible. The Sabres have played 13 games in November. They’ve scored two goals or fewer in 12 of them, finding the net just 19 times. That’s an average of 1.46 goals per game.
“It’s tough to sit there and say, ‘As a team we have to be better,’ when it’s myself and scoring goals and giving ourselves life early,” O’Reilly said. “We can’t wait until the third to score a goal. We’ve got to produce at some point.”
O’Reilly absorbs blame in the best of times. He was taking it heavily after the latest loss. He had a one-on-one with Caps goaltender Philipp Grubauer during a power play with 4:20 left, and he couldn’t make a dent in the Sabres’ 2-1 deficit.
“It’s frustrating,” said O’Reilly, who has one goal in his last 12 games. “It’s scoring goals again is the problem, and that’s my job. I’m not doing it right now.”
He’s not alone:
• Derek Grant hasn’t found the net in any of the 21 games.
• Zemgus Girgensons has been blanked in 18 straight.
• Evander Kane is scoreless in 10 games.
• Brian Gionta has one goal in 13 games.
• Johan Larsson has one goal in 12 games.
• Kyle Okposo has one goal in 10 games.
• Sam Reinhart, who scored with 10:02 to play, has two goals in 10 games.
“It is frustrating,” Reinhart said. “I don’t know one guy in here that isn’t. With that being said, they’re going to come in spurts, and we’ve got to be ready for that.”
What little offense the Sabres have is usually generated by the power play. The unit missed its chances against the Capitals. Buffalo had three power plays during the third period, but it failed every time.
“We had looks, chances,” Okposo said. “We just didn’t put it in the net. That’s the difference in the game right
“We had some big opportunities in that game to get that other one. It wasn’t for lack of execution. It’s just the final one where you put it in the net. That was what we were missing.”
When skill is struggling, a little luck can help. Good fortune shined solely on the Caps. Their first two goals came when pucks caromed where they weren’t supposed to go. Buffalo’s bounces went out of harm’s way.
“We don’t get those dirty goals, and we don’t get those goals off the post and in or off a shin pad and in,” Sabres goalie Anders Nilsson said. “We have to work really hard for every goal we score. Hopefully, we can turn that around and get the bounces with us.”
They’ll hope for a few Tuesday when they visit Ottawa.
“We’ve got to shoot the puck better,” O’Reilly said. “It’s that simple. We’re moving it well. We’re supporting each other. We’re getting these good looks, but it’s beating the goalie. That’s all it is. It starts with myself. I’ve got to do that.”